Review Date: January 17, 2011
Platform: PC & Mac
Genre: Hidden Object Game
A hidden object game about a haunted hotel sounds like about the most cliche game imaginable. But Phantasmat is anything but. It's spooky, challenging, and full of great writing and a small cast of memorable characters. It's lengthy and beautiful and, in short, just about everything you could want in a hidden object game.
Nothing Seems Right
It starts with a car crash. Your character, an unnamed and silent protagonist, swerves off the road and into a ditch. When you wake up, you run in to a young woman who tells you that, whatever you do, don't check in to the nearby hotel. But thanks to circumstances out of your control, that's exactly what you end up doing.
The hotel is dirty, dilapidated, and likely haunted. It's also perched on a hill above a submerged city that was recently abandoned. Or was it recently? The passage of time in the hotel and its surrounding area seems to have possibly slowed, and the residents don't seem to have much of an idea of how much time has really passed. There are only three other characters for you to interact with -- the young woman, the creepy hotel owner, and a mysterious and strange old woman -- but each one is interesting and holds their own secrets. The only way to find your way out of the hotel and back to safety is to solve the mystery of just what happened to these people.
In addition to the dialog with other characters, you'll also come across newspapers, audio recordings, and hidden notes that help further along the dark tale. And every once in a while your character will have a strange flashback that slowly reveals just what really happened.
The gameplay is largely a fusion between traditional HOG play and classic point-and-click adventure style. What this means is there's plenty of items to collect and puzzles to solve. You'll explore the hotel and the area surrounding it from a first-person perspective, moving from scene to scene at your own pace. Sometimes you'll find objects to collect and use later on, and you'll frequently come across glowing areas to search through. This will bring you to a HOG scene, which features a big mess of items and a list of which ones need to be found.
In a great twist, during the HOG scenes you can switch back and forth between finding objects and playing a Fishdom-style match-three puzzle game. In this mode, as you clear away pieces golden eyes will appear, and getting these eyes to the bottom of the screen will cross an item off the list. So if you ever get stuck with finding an object you can play some match-three instead. You can choose to play either match-three or HOG, or some combination of the two, giving you a great deal of flexibility.
The puzzles themselves aren't too difficult, and mostly boil down to having the right item at the right time. There are a few mini-game-style puzzles, as well, which add a bit of variety to the game. These can all be skipped if you so choose, however. The only real issue is that it's occasionally easy to miss an item, which means you'll have to backtrack and figure out just what it is you missed.
Phantasmat is also a gorgeous looking game. It's dark and surreal and full of all sorts of great visual effects, including an optional grainy film filter that really adds to the spooky atmosphere. The world is constantly changing, with objects seemingly coming to life and paintings that may or may not be staring at you. There's also a surprisingly large amount of variety to the environments you'll be exploring. From the eerie hotel to the submerged city, seaweed is threatening to invade the world and surreal light pours out of least likely places.
But the atmosphere also owes a great deal to the sound design. The soundtrack is pitch perfect, swiftly moving from heart pounding music to unsettling, disembodied whispers surrounded by silence. This is a game that you should definitely play with a great pair of headphones or speaker set. The voice acting, too, is great. The hotel owner is exceptionally sinister and the young girl is curiously mysterious. Unfortunately, the old woman isn't quite as well cast. In fact, she sounds more like a young person trying very hard to sound old, which just doesn't work. With only three characters talking, it's a bit disappointing that one of them sounds so bad.
The Bottom Line
But that's about the only thing that's disappointing about Phantasmat. Overall, it's an incredibly engrossing and lengthy adventure. It's genuinely spooky and sports some of the best production values of any HOG around. If you enjoy hidden object games, you owe it to yourself to play Phantasmat.